The month of March marks 500 years since the passing away of Leonardo Da Vinci. Several museums around the world have set up exhibitions to celebrate Leonardo’s legacy. Inquisitive minds would like to know: 1) How brilliant are the accomplishments for one to be celebrated after five centuries? and 2) If ‘genius leaves clues’ what can we learn from the extraordinary ‘ones.
While I spent several hours reading broadly in admiration of Leonardo, the book “Leonardo Da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson is by far the most concise work on his life. The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa are two of Leonardo’s seminal works, but the totality and the range of his accomplishments is well beyond the popularity of these paintings. Leonardo was also the first to accomplish many things. Outside of painting and sculpting, he was interested in architecture, engineering, human anatomy, physics, and optics. He was the first to create a modern-day map and to discover that the human heart had 4 chambers, instead of two. He intuitively understood that the study of optics is important to bring the right perspective to the viewer. He left behind 7000 pages of notes, where he wrote:
“Painting is based on perspective, and perspective is nothing else than a thorough knowledge of the function of the eye.”
His greatest accomplishment though was the intense focus and curiosity with which he approached the ‘mundane’. When the World saw a bird, he zeroed in on the ‘mechanics of the tongue’ – which differentiated his insights. He dissected the human body to understand human anatomy. It is unthinkable even today for an artist to do that. He was a missionary in the quest of knowledge, instead of a mercenary who produced for money. He devoted his life to mastering the Sciences, the Arts, and Humanities. It is this unique combination that produced his ‘body of work’.
The study of Leonardo’s life and achievements brings three conclusions:
1) Broaden our Perspective. Society and educational status-quo preach focus and mastery of narrow topics. However, to create true differentiation and transcendental works, one must combine multiple disciplines. We must broaden our perspectives. A well-understood example is how Apple combined hardware, industrial design, and packaging aesthetics to build a brand in a crowded field. It is not surprising at all to learn that Steve Jobs idolized Leonardo
2) Take Risks.In a world where everyone is focused on instant success and immediate positive feedback, the willingness to take risks with our scare capital (time and money) to purse ideas that might not be popular in the present is a structural advantage.
3) Delayed vs. Instant Gratification.In investment parlance - reading widely outside of finance and business – brings differentiating insights which are not obvious at the time of reading. It’s the ‘eventual connecting the dots’ that makes a big difference because only a select few are going down this road. This is truly why - forgoing immediate investment success - to invest in what is less obvious - results in sustainable and long-lasting returns.
I am an investor and these are my personal thoughts on investing, behavioral finance, markets, and sports viewed through the prism of a Latticework